Author Archives: Soren Kaplan

About Soren Kaplan

Soren Kaplan is the best-selling and award-winning author of Experiential Intelligence, a leading keynote speaker, founder of Praxie.com, and an affiliate at USC’s Center for Effective Organizations. Business Insider and the Thinkers50 have named him one of the world’s top management experts and consultants.

This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

This 9-Box Grid Can Help Grow Your Best Future Talent

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Hiring good people is tough. Retaining your best talent can be equally challenging. In today’s disruptive world, competitive advantage relies as much on people as it does technology.

So, how do you objectively know which people are your all-stars, especially in a bigger organization? And not just the best talent today, but the best for the future?

I originally wrote this article for my Inc. Magazine column. My team at Praxie.com created an online 9-Box app and I was stunned at how much interest there was from across industries for this solution.

Keeping & Growing Talent is Today’s Name of the Game

Just as it’s easier and cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones, the same goes for employees. Knowing who your current and future all-stars are helps you keep them and gives you the opportunity to help them grow into more strategic roles.

The 9-box talent grid categorizes your people into nine categories. The grid contains two axes, performance and potential, each of which includes three levels each: low, moderate, and high. When you match up the categories on the axes, you get nine boxes that become classifications.

Categorizing people helps reveal who’s contributing the most now, and who will likely contribute the most in the future:

  1. Stars (High Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with high potential. Will likely become part of the future leadership team.
  2. High Potentials (High Potential, Moderate Performance): Solid performance overall with high potential to grow. Will most likely advance in current or future roles and may become part of the future leadership team.
  3. Enigmas (High Potential, Low Performance): While high potential, challenges exist in performance that may require additional support or training and development.
  4. High Performer (Moderate Potential, High Performance): Consistently high performance with solid potential to advance in current role and future positions with the right opportunity.
  5. Key Player (Moderate Potential, Moderate Performance): Overall good performance and potential with additional support and opportunities to grow.
  6. Inconsistent Player (Moderate Potential, Low Performance): Low performance and moderate potential require additional support and training to validate growth opportunity.
  7. Workhorses (Low Potential, High Performance): Highly effective performance yet may have peaked in terms of potential so coaching or training may help elevate potential.
  8. Backups (Low Potential, Moderate Performance): Decent performance and an asset but may not become a more significant contributor.
  9. Bad Hires (Low Potential, Low Performance): Low performance coupled with low potential means re-evaluating overall role in organization.

The team at Praxie.com has made the 9-Box application available to try to free.

9 Box Example

Shoot for the Stars

The easiest way is to assign people to the categories is based on your experience working with them. Or, if you’re in a larger organization, collect inputs from managers and aggregate the results.

Here’s how it works: The CEO of an organization works with their HR director to collect inputs from managers within the sales department. Twenty-five sales representatives are mapped into the nine boxes. The results are used to provide additional incentives, identify people for leadership development programs, and promote individual reps to managers for new territories.

The 9-box grid provides a snapshot in time. Use the tool to continually assess and reassess your talent. You’ll see some people move up and to the right while others may stay stagnant. Use these trends to help people grow. It won’t improve just your organizational culture. It will also improve your business.

Image credits: Praxie.com

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

Empathy: The Currency of Human Connection and Innovation

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

Having worked with innovation teams from global companies like Visa, Colgate-Palmolive, Kimberly-Clark, Disney, Medtronic and many others, there’s one consistent success factor when it comes to innovation, no matter what you’re doing: it all starts with the customer.

Companies spend oodles of time and money trying to understand customers. They conduct surveys, hire market researchers, run focus groups, analyze social media, and the list goes on. What’s often missed, however, are customers’ deeper needs and underlying pain points that really matter to them. Quantitative surveys, for example, might give you a sense of a market’s overall sentiment about a topic, but you won’t get to know someone’s personal struggles and underlying motivations from checkboxes on an online form.

Instead, you need to truly put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s not just about intellectually understanding their situation. It’s about tapping into the emotions they feel, and even feeling them yourself as part of the process of connecting to their experience.

Empathy Reveals New Opportunities

I recently led a leadership development program for a large health care provider with hundreds of hospitals. They wanted to understand their patients better, so they could come up with innovations to help them stay healthy and avoid costly visits to the doctor and hospital. Initially, the team had ideas to provide promotional materials on how to eat healthier and exercise.

As part of the process, a small team went to visit patients at their homes in rural areas. At one house, they discovered a giant water tank had been built by a company that towered over their patient’s home–and it was slowly dripping water on the roof, creating a whole variety of problems, including causing the beginnings of respiratory issues for the woman living in the house due to mold. The team was shocked.

The team realized that pamphlets about healthy eating and exercise wouldn’t do much to help. They also recognized that in certain cases they might need to provide radically different types of support to their patients as part of ensuring their overall health, beyond just providing traditional health care. They helped the woman contact the water tank company to fix the leak. They have also since expanded their approach around prevention to address various “social determinants of health” in communities like poor quality water, lack of healthy food, and other issues that lead to health issues long before someone shows symptoms of a formal medical issue.

Immersing yourself in the world of your customers through visits, observation, interviews, and other interactions can provide a new perspective around issues, problems, and assumptions.

Capture Concrete Observations

Empathy is a core element of “design thinking,” a common approach used for product and service innovation. It’s also a concept that can be hard to understand when it comes to translating what you might see and hear into something meaningful about the customer. Here’s a template for doing just that from Praxie.com.

Customer Empathy Map

The next time you connect with a customer, consider the following to help capture concrete observations:

  • Say: What does the customer explicitly say?
  • Feel: What are the customer’s emotions?
  • Think: What occupies the customer’s thoughts?
  • Do: What does the customer do in public?

By providing a structure for cataloguing your observations, you can turn what might seem as ambiguous into something tangible.

Turn Observations into Insight

It’s one thing to observe customers. It’s another to translate what you observe into real insights that help catalyze new ideas.

Once you’ve cataloged your observations, take a step back. Consider the ultimate “pain points” that your customer experiences. What are the customer’s top problems or frustrations? Also be sure to consider the “gain” the customer hopes to achieve. What does the customer hope to accomplish or achieve?

Answering these questions helps move general observations into insights that can be used as the basis for generating new ideas.

Give the World Your Empathy

Empathy is the currency of human connection. We all crave it. And when we give it to others, we build and deepen relationships. Try empathizing with others. You’ll see the returns in the form of a better world, and greater innovation.

Image credits: Praxie.com, Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

Successful strategy and innovation are about how fast you can become aware of your assumptions.

Surfacing Your Hidden Assumptions

GUEST POST from Soren Kaplan

When it comes to strategy and innovation, success depends on how fast you become aware of your assumptions and then modify them. But it’s a paradox:  You can’t see your most fundamental assumptions until you overcome them. This means that you can only understand your mindsets that were barriers retrospectively.

Let’s look at how this works. I have a quick story for you, then a question.

A bus driver was heading down Van Ness Avenue in my hometown of San Francisco. He went through a stop sign without even slowing down, then turned onto a one-way street going the opposite direction as the rest of the traffic. A police officer saw the whole thing but he didn’t stop him or issue a ticket because no laws had been broken. The question for you is this: How can this scenario be possible?

If you answered that the bus driver was walking down the street, you are correct. This is a very simple example to illustrate how we all make assumptions. Most people just assume that a bus driver is always driving a bus. But of course, that’s not the case. The most important part of this exercise isn’t to point out that an assumption may have been made in the first place – it’s only natural to do so. It’s to show that most of us only recognize that we’ve made an assumption after we’ve discovered that our thinking was invalid or that it led us astray. And by then, it can often be “too late.”

Let’s go back to the bus driver for a moment. What if I had framed things up in the scenario a little differently and included another statement up front that said “In San Francisco, people use cars, take the bus, or walk down the street to get where they’re going.”  How would this have impacted your assumptions? For most people, the idea that it’s possible the bus driver could be walking down the street would have been planted in their brains as they read the rest of the scenario – and they would have more easily overcome their limiting assumption that bus drivers only drive buses. The goal is to continually broaden your perspective so that you can overcome your assumptions before they limit your options or slow you down.

Here are a couple of tried and true approaches I’ve used to challenge and expand mindsets.

Identify Areas of Intrigue

When it comes to developing your strategy or innovating, get clear on what you need to know and learn. List up to 4-5 topics. Examples might include things like board games children like most, the healthiest yet best tasting desserts, or the most successful social media influencers. For each topic, create a list of guiding questions that, if answered, would really give you a solid understanding of the area. For instance, using the board games children like mostexample, you could come up with questions like: What are the most popular children’s board games? How long do the best games take to play? Do adults usually play with the children? What does it take to win? This exercise will help you better understand what’s most important to further explore so you can broaden your perspective.

Adapt a Business Model

Find a company completely outside of your industry or market and look at what makes them different and what they do really well.  Then adapt their model to your cause.  Use the format “I want to be the ____________ of ____________” by putting a company name into the first blank and the area of your target market or innovation area into the second blank.  For example, if you want to transform the fashion industry, you might try “I want to be the Netflix of fashion”, which could lead you down the path of high-end evening gown rental services like Rent the Runway.  Consider companies like Starbucks, Twitter, Domino’s, NIKE, Home Depot, or any other innovative company you can think of.

Your mindsets naturally constrain your ability to consider alternatives and possibilities that go beyond the boundaries of your thinking. Your limiting assumptions can be about personal skills, team knowledge and abilities, organizational capabilities, market needs, technology, financial limitations, partnership possibilities, competition, or just about anything else. The goal is to recognize you hold assumptions and then act to surface them.

As the writer John Seely Brown once said, the harder you fight to hold on to specific assumptions, the more likely there’s gold in letting go of them.

Image credit: Pexels

This article was originally published on Inc.com and has been syndicated for this blog.

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